Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.
OCR for page 39
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research 5 Space and Earth Science Research INTRODUCTION The focus of this study is an appraisal of the equipment, facilities, and support services used for fundamental science and engineering research at NASA. A key related question is whether the NASA capabilities are adequate to support NASA’s goals. To answer this question, the vision and goals of NASA in space and Earth science, which reside in the SMD, must be understood. SMD, one of NASA’s four directorates, sponsors scientific research and develops and deploys satellites and probes in collaboration with NASA’s partners around the world who also need a view from and into space.1 It seeks to understand the origins, evolution, and destiny of the universe and the strange phenomena that shape it. Included in SMD goals are to understand the following: The nature of life in the universe and what kinds of life may exist beyond Earth; The solar system, both scientifically and in preparation for human exploration; The Sun–Earth system, changes to the system, and the consequences for life on Earth; The birth of the universe, the edges of space and time near black holes, and the darkest space, between galaxies; and The relationship between the smallest subatomic particles and the vast expanse of the cosmos. The SMD sponsors space science and Earth research, which both enable and are enabled by NASA’s mainline space exploration activities. Included in these fundamental research activities are the following: Understanding the history of Mars and the formation of the solar system; The search for Earth-like planets and habitable environments around other stars; and Support for the safety of robotic and human exploration of space by predicting potentially harmful conditions in space, such as space radiation. Responsibility for the defining, planning, and overseeing of NASA space and Earth science goals lies in the four divisions of the SMD, which have the following objectives: Earth science. Study planet Earth from space to advance scientific understanding of it and to help meet societal needs; Planetary science. Advance the scientific knowledge of the origin and history of the solar system, the potential for life elsewhere, hazards faced by humans as they explore space, and the resources that they present; Heliophysics. Understand the Sun and its effects on Earth and the solar system; and 1 See NASA, Science Plan: For NASA’s Science Mission Directorate 2007–2016, available at http://science.nasa.gov/media/medialibrary/2010/03/31/Science_Plan_07.pdf.
OCR for page 40
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research Astrophysics. Discover the origin, structure, evolution, and destiny of the universe, and search for Earth-like planets. Fundamental research on profound science questions using space-based observatories and related assets is the hallmark of all four of the scientific areas identified above. In planning the future science programs for each of these disciplines, NASA works to implement the priorities defined by the NRC in its decadal surveys and other reports. These reports represent the consensus of the nation’s science communities in their respective disciplines. Roadmaps in each of the four science areas are then developed to show the pathways for implementing the NRC-defined priorities. NASA, working with the broad scientific community and in response to national initiatives and the NRC decadal surveys, creates a set of space and Earth science questions to be answered by future missions. The activities to address these questions and objectives range from basic and applied research to contribute to the understanding of the scientific challenges, the development of technology to enable new capabilities, space mission development to acquire the vital new data, and supporting science and infrastructure systems to ensure the delivery of high-value scientific results to the scientific community and the general public. Fundamental research develops the pioneering theories, techniques, and technologies that result in missions. Such research, which is funded internally at NASA through a series of IRAD projects and through internal and external annual solicitations such as ROSES, enables an exploration of innovative concepts in sufficient depth to determine whether they are ready for incorporation into space missions. Examples of the types of basic and applied research and supporting technology development sponsored by IRAD and ROSES include these: Concepts for future space missions; Theory, modeling, and analysis of mission science data; Experimental techniques suitable for future space missions; Aircraft, stratospheric balloon, and suborbital rocket investigations; and Techniques for the laboratory analysis of extraterrestrial samples returned by spacecraft. The results of the research and analysis inform and guide the scientific trade-offs and other choices that are made as missions are put together. Sponsored researchers guide the operation of robotic missions, selecting targets for observation or sampling. Once a NASA science mission launches and begins returning data, the first goal of the analysis programs is to maximize the scientific return. The new information is analyzed to advance understanding across the breadth of NASA science. Research and analysis funds are used to transform the returned data into new knowledge that may be able to answer the strategic space and Earth science questions raised by the scientific communities. Researchers publish their results in the open scientific literature. NASA also funds the archiving and distribution of these scientific data. A very limited amount of space research is also funded from the Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) through another directorate, ESMD. Examples of this basic research include cryogenic fluid management, green propulsion, energy storage, lunar dust, and in situ resource utilization (ISRU)—all of them techniques to enable humans to live off the land. As NASA’s goals have become centered on missions with timescales that in many cases are too short to benefit from basic research, the funding for basic research in space propulsion and its associated facilities and equipment has been significantly reduced. One notable remaining program is the integrated high-payoff rocket propulsion technology program, which does not, however, include any TRL 1-3 research. Virtually all space propulsion work now is developmental work. As discussed in the recent Assessment of U.S. Space Launch Vehicle Production Capacity by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the paucity of
OCR for page 41
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research propulsion R&D limits our nation’s ability to identify potential breakthroughs in propulsion and to retain and attract research personnel.2 Another segment of space research with lower levels of technology readiness is gravity-dependent physical science phenomena. This work was once conducted in the Microgravity Research Program and the Life Sciences Program. A limited amount of research funded through ETDP focuses on fire safety, life support, and power. Because Congress has mandated that 15 percent of research not be related to exploration, a limited number of other research programs have been reinstated.3 NASA cannot accomplish its mission and vision without a healthy and stable effort in fundamental research in the space and Earth sciences. Achieving NASA’s objectives requires a strong scientific and technical community over the long term to envision, develop, and deploy space missions and to apply results from those missions for the benefit of society. From concept development to selection, to mission implementation, to data analysis and reporting can easily take longer than a decade and in many cases as long as a professional lifetime. It is critical to support the space and Earth science community in the United States at universities, government facilities, and industrial laboratories by providing the necessary equipment, facilities, and support services. The key relationship between funding support and NASA’s success was of utmost concern to the committee as it began its visits to the various NASA centers. GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER Overview of GSFC GSFC is a large NASA space and Earth research center in Greenbelt, Maryland. It was established as NASA’s first spaceflight center on May 1, 1959, less than a year after the formation of NASA itself. GSFC employs approximately 3,200 civil servants and 5,400 contractors. It is named in recognition of Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945), the pioneer of modern rocket propulsion in the United States. NASA describes GSFC’s mission as follows: “… to expand knowledge of the Earth and its environment, the solar system and the universe through observations from space. To assure that our nation maintains leadership in this endeavor, we are committed to excellence in scientific investigation, in the development and operation of space systems and in the advancement of essential technologies.”4 In fulfilling its mission, GSFC has developed and launched nearly 300 missions (satellites and primary instruments) that have studied Earth, the Sun, the planets, asteroids and comets, the interplanetary medium, and the universe. GSFC is the largest organization of scientists and engineers in the United States dedicated to this mission. More than 60 percent of the center’s personnel are scientists and engineers. There are five main facilities operating under the director of GSFC: the main facility at Greenbelt, Maryland; the Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Virginia; the Independent Verification Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia; the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City; and the White Sands Ground Station in White Sands, New Mexico. The main facility at GSFC occupies 130 acres of a total land area of 1,270 acres. The gross building square footage is over 3.3 million ft2, used for research, development, office space, and utilities. In addition, there are 21 government-owned and -leased trailers for housing personnel and storing equipment. There are 64 constructed buildings on the main facility property and 10 adjunct areas that 2 Office of Science and Technology Policy, Assessment of U.S. Space Launch Vehicle Engine Production Capacity, Washington, D.C., December 22, 2009, pp. 13-14. 3 See the ISS Research Project Web site at http://spaceflightsystems.grc.nasa.gov/Advanced/ISSResearch/. 4 See the Goddard Space Flight Center, “Goddard’s Mission,” at http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/about_mission.html.
OCR for page 42
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research include an antenna range, a satellite tracking station, utilities, and several observatories and magnetic test sites. GSFC’s management regards 20 of its 33 main buildings as critical to its operations. GSFC’s operations are organized around three center-based directorates, which report directly to the center’s management, but only the last of which is highly relevant to the committee’s present work: the Flight Projects Directorate, the Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate, and the Science and Exploration Directorate (SED). The GSFC Web site says that “missions are the lifeblood of the Goddard Space Flight Center.”5 GSFC is currently involved in 42 operating missions and has funding for 14 planned missions, which are discussed at http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/missions/index.html. Because, as mentioned above, two of the three directorates had very few low-TRL researchers, laboratories, or other activities, the committee made no visits to their facilities or program areas. Thus, the focus was almost entirely on the low-TRL basic research activities associated with the SED at GSFC. GSFC’s Science and Exploration Directorate About one-sixth of GSFC’s total budget of $3.1 billion goes to the SED. The permanent staff includes 525 civil servants, of whom 350 are scientists. At any one time, there are also approximately 350 visiting university faculty, staff, and other visitors, 350 support service contractors, 80 collocated engineers, and about 120 summer students and interns. At the present time, the SED facility is in eight main buildings covering 425,000 ft2. The committee was also told that a new building, the Exploration Science Building, is opening, and that it will house many older SED laboratories and have about 50 new, discrete science laboratories. The SED goals for its research laboratories include the following:6 An aggressive hiring plan, Hands-on experimental and instrumental capabilities across the domains covered by SED, A cohesive plan for the collocation of synergistic laboratories and groups, Improvements in laboratory safety, and Improvements to management’s sensitivity to work issues. SED management7 said that it is committed to supporting NASA’s entire mission life cycle, which includes (1) research and development, (2) participation in flight missions and instrument design and operations, and (3) data analysis, archiving, and distribution. At the present time, SED management believes that it needs to strengthen its efforts relative to the second item. SED activities in various laboratories vary in TRL over time, depending on funds available for basic research and, when they are limited, moving personnel to higher-TRL projects. Overall, SED management says that it would like to carry out a full range of TRL work, with an emphasis on flight project work. It also believes that low-TRL work benefits substantially from laboratory infrastructure developed to support higher-TRL and flight project work. In addition, it said that the overall funding, full-cost management, and other institutional issues facing GSFC are disproportionately impacting its low-TRL capabilities. In the past, SED’s funding of basic research and associated infrastructure through GSFC funds contributed much to the center’s scientific and technological reputation. However, over the past 4 years the funding for basic research has been reduced, making it increasingly difficult to sustain low-TRL 5 See www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/home/index_flash.html. 6 Mitch Brown, SED Deputy Director for Planning and Business Management, “Sciences and Exploration Directorate: NRC Laboratory Capability Assessment,” presentation to the committee, September 9, 2009. 7 Braulio Ramon, GSFC Facilities Planning Office Head, “GSFC Facilities Master Plan/Planning Process,” presentation to the committee, September 8, 2009.
OCR for page 43
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research facilities, salaries, and instrumentation. For example, SED’s management told the committee that to remain competitive in ROSES competitions (discussed later), requests for funding for general laboratory enhancement are now omitted from their proposals. Large laboratories supporting multiple users are impacted, especially when no one user can afford the fees to maintain a facility. Moreover, the necessity to bid at a bare minimum level to increase the probability of a win eliminates potential opportunities to benefit a larger community of users. Finally, the committee was told that constrained operations funding under the CM&O budget is impacting daily operations and the SED’s ability to support changing mission requirements. One particularly difficult fact is that CM&O funds are sufficient to cover only 25 percent of SED’s annual technical equipment requirements (for all TRLs). The committee was also told that creating new laboratories to pursue new research areas is a very important need at GSFC. This is a very typical low-TRL activity of great importance to future flight programs and the ability of the center to attract high-quality technical talent. SED management told the committee that most of the ROSES funding opportunities available to the center are small awards ($100,000 to $200,000) that are insufficient for a new laboratory leader’s salary, let alone that of the research team and the necessary procurements, including specialized laboratory equipment. To secure adequate funds, the committee was told, scientists must write and submit multiple proposals every year, but they do not have enough B&P funding from the center to do this. (Most of such proposals are directed to specific NASA missions or to ROSES.) The committee was told that a significant amount of proposal writing is being done on staff members’ personal time. Some staff that work in basic research told the committee that they must spend 30 to 50 percent or more of their time writing proposals to meet equipment needs and salary funding commitments. Such a heavy investment of time is far beyond the norm for faculty at U.S. research universities. In the long run, such a loss of time by low-TRL researchers will have serious consequences for programs depending on it. The situation facing the development of new laboratories at GSFC is particularly difficult in the currently poor climate for low-TRL funding. The committee was told that only very rarely could a new activity compete with that of research teams from universities and institutes outside NASA that already have a laboratory capability (space, infrastructure support, and technical equipment) in place. On top of all of this, the committee was told that NASA personnel, unlike their university competitors, are not permitted to apply for funds at other government agencies, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), DOE, or the National Institutes of Health. Thus, low-TRL activities of importance to GSFC and NASA are increasingly difficult to put together. GSFC Budget Support Funds for GSFC Earth and space science operations come from NASA Headquarters. There are three key operating budget accounts at GSFC: CM&O, NASA mission funds from SMD and ESMD, and a separate CoF account disbursed by NASA Headquarters, which enables the construction of buildings at GSFC. Figure 5.1 shows the lines of budget authority and flow of these funds as these relate to decision makers at NASA Headquarters and GSFC. The SMD and ESMD at NASA Headquarters make decisions and provide funding for NASA science and exploration missions. Decisions affecting these mission activities pass directly to GSFC mission project offices, bypassing the general management controls of the GSFC director. Funding for internal scientific and technical operations as well as for CoF comes to GSFC’s Office of the Director by way of budgets and allocations approved at NASA Headquarters by NASA’s associate administrator. These activities and funds are under the direct control of the GSFC director. Some of the CM&O funds are designated for center maintenance and operations. They support the long-range objectives and needs of GSFC, as well as the special needs of low-TRL research. CoF funds, also under the control of the center director, impact low-TRL research insofar as they support facilities used in this type of work.
OCR for page 44
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research FIGURE 5.1 Sources of funding for Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) scientific research. Science Mission Directorate and Exploration Systems Mission Directorate funds flow directly to mission projects, while other GSFC science programs and overall operations are provided by the GSFC Office of the Director with funds that originate from NASA’s associate administrator. The dual lines of authority shown in Figure 5.1 create a complexity for sustaining the low-TRL research infrastructure at GSFC. On the one hand, two major NASA Headquarters mission directorates (SMD and ESMD) are the main source of funds for most of the GSFC SED projects. However, most missions designate only a small amount of funding for low-TRL research. Thus, the long-range scientific skills and facilities that help create new missions depend on GSFC CM&O funds as well as competitive awards to individual researchers from the NASA Headquarters SMD and ESMD. This is a very delicate situation, especially since the director of GSFC remains responsible for funding for the center’s civil service staff base. Table 5.1 gives GSFC’s 2009 revenues for some of the expenditures mentioned in Figure 5.1.
OCR for page 45
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research TABLE 5.1 Revenue for Goddard Space Flight Center for FY 2009 Source FY 2009 ($ million) Total revenue 3,138 SMD and ESMD 523 CM&O, NASA Headquarters 358 CoF, NASA Headquarters 17.3 NOTE: Acronyms are defined in Appendix F. SOURCE: Presentations to the committee during its visit to GSFC. Funds Available for Low-TRL Research at GSFC Table 5.2 shows allocations for the past 5 years directly related to the principal sources for support of low-TRL research at GSFC. The first four rows give funding from the CM&O budget of the center given in the third row of Table 5.1. The last row (ROSES) gives the total funding of individual GSFC investigator proposals by the SMD of NASA Headquarters. Before discussing the elements of Table 5.2, an important caveat needs to be noted: the data in the first three rows are based on estimates provided by GSFC managers, who said that they were unable to track expenditures by TRL. However, GSFC account managers say that they have a “working understanding” of which expenditures are related to early-TRL work, and this understanding was a basis for the numbers in Table 5.2. In addition, GSFC managers said that investments in physical infrastructure were excluded because all GSFC laboratories are dedicated to broad ranges of TRL research, and the cost attributable to low-TRL work is likely to be very small. TABLE 5.2 Goddard Space Flight Center Low-TRL Research Funding Allocations for FY 2005 Through FY 2009 Fiscal Year Funding ($000) 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 Bid and Proposal funding for low-TRL research 419 431 444 457 471 Independent research and development (IRAD) funds 1,508 1,315 2,884 3,432 3,949 Director’s discretionary fund (DDF) 2,804 2,270 — — — Total IRAD and DDF 4,312 3,585 2,884 3,432 3,949 Technical equipment 63 69 67 69 70 Research Opportunities for Space and Earth Sciences funding for low-TRL research 1,687 1,770 1,594 1,729 1,655 NOTE: Acronyms are defined in Appendix F. SOURCE: GSFC Management, “GSFC Response to the NRC Laboratory Assessment Committee Request for Additional Data,” provided on December 17, 2009.
OCR for page 46
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research Another caveat with respect to Table 5.2 is that funding for low-TRL research activities that pertain to flight projects (missions) has been omitted, because flight projects invest principally in higher (>4)-TRL work. Exceptions may occur when problems must be solved to ensure project success. However, GSFC management says such events are rare and the associated costs are not tracked. The sources of low-TRL funding at GSFC given in Table 5.2 are in five categories: GSFC bid and proposal funds are used to support the preparation of proposals in response to NASA competitive announcements, including the development of instrument and mission concepts, cost estimates, and documentation. Only a small fraction of GSFC’s B&P resources support TRL 1-3 efforts. GSFC managers said that virtually all of the funds listed in Table 5.2 are for preparation of GSFC SMD ROSES. Independent research and development funds, which are awarded to proposals submitted by GSFC researchers to GSFC management, derive from the GSFC’s CM&O account. The committee was told that about 20 to 30 1-year, Phase A awards of $100,000 to $200,000 are made each year to GSFC personnel for low-TRL work. In addition, a down-selection from the previous year’s awards is made for Phase B work. GSFC’s total IRAD account is significantly larger than the account for low-TRL research alone. A director’s discretionary fund existed through 2006 for meritorious proposals selected by the GSFC’s top management. It was discontinued in 2007, but the IRAD fund was doubled in that year. Technical equipment includes all investments to maintain, operate, repair, upgrade, or provide new capability for basic (low-TRL) research in the four directorates at GSFC’s Greenbelt and Wallops Island facilities. Research Opportunities for Space and Earth Sciences encompasses all of the funding from the competitive selection of GSFC researcher proposals in specific scientific disciplines and is sponsored by the SMD at NASA Headquarters. More than 4,000 proposals are made to ROSES each year by NASA researchers as well as those at many U.S. universities and research institutes. The overall success rate for ROSES proposals varies from year to year and from discipline to discipline. It is noted that more than one-quarter of the funds available for low-TRL research at GSFC are accounted for by awards to individuals and small groups led by low-TRL PIs. Table 5.3 assesses the relevance of ROSES awards to later low-TRL research at GSFC. The second column of this table gives the number of SMD program solicitations for each year between 2003 and 2009. In 2008, for example, 65 such opportunities were provided for competition across all U.S. space and Earth science researchers in universities, institutes, NASA centers, and private companies. The third column gives the total number of new proposals received by NASA Headquarters. In the period FY 2004 through FY 2008, approximately 4,300 proposals were received each year, including new proposals and old, continuing activities. A single successful ROSES proposal, renewable annually, often provides funds for multiple years. The number of new proposals selected in a given year is shown in the fourth column. From FY 2003 through FY 2008, the number selected was between 1,200 and about 1,400. The last column shows the overall success rates for new activities, which varies from year to year, from between 27 to 34 percent. Success rates for specific disciplines can vary significantly from this average. NASA makes public the yearly funding for only a few of its programs. Most awards range from $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the SMD need for the research and size of effort. A majority of successful proposals are rated as excellent.
OCR for page 47
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research TABLE 5.3 Research Opportunities for Space and Earth Sciences Awards, FY 2003 to FY 2009 Fiscal Year Solicitations Proposal Received New Selections Success Rate (%) 2003 37 3,523 1,209 34 2004 46 4,315 1,376 32 2005 58 4,251 1,225 29 2006 54 4,315 1,376 32 2007 68 4,298 1,428 33 2008 65 4,203 1,293 31 2009 (Partial) 11 714 192 27 SOURCE: Science Mission Directorate ROSES Web site at http://nasascience.nasa.gov/researchers/sara/grant-stats/grant-stats-archive. GSFC researchers told the committee that they had two concerns about ROSES. First, much of the work being funded is related to SMD space and Earth science missions, making it difficult for non-mission-directed, low-TRL researchers to be successful in the competitions. Second, because NASA employees may not compete for other federal funds to support their activities, ROSES, which is open to researchers from all types of institutions, offers too little reward relative to the demand of all NASA centers for significant, non-center salary offsets. Unfortunately, because the data provided by SMD gives no information about the success rate of NASA researchers, it is difficult to determine if the ROSES process inadvertently discriminates against NASA support of low-TRL researchers. GSFC low-TRL researchers also say that it is very difficult to write a successful proposal when that proposal includes requests for equipment, since total cost is one of the factors in the ROSES selection process. Thus, NASA personnel find it difficult to create research units that require new equipment. Returning to Table 5.2, GSFC managers told the committee that B&P funds are used almost entirely for writing proposals for NASA’s ROSES competitions, almost never for writing proposals for the development of new technologies or instruments. The committee notes that since 2005, the total funding for low-level TRL research from IRAD and center director-discretionary funds (DDF) combined has declined by about 8 percent in real-year dollars. Furthermore, the dollar yield from GSFC B&P funds spent for ROSES—that is, dollars won in competitions relative to dollars spent in B&P activities—ranged from $4.01 in FY 2005 to $3.5 in FY 2009, a decline of 15 percent over 5 years. GSFC Environment for Basic Research In assessing the overall suitability of the GSFC work environment for basic research (TRL 1 to 3), the committee notes that the following factors influence the hiring, retention, and performance of GSFC’s permanent civil service research staff; these are the highly trained personnel who direct and sustain the core technical competencies of the center: Funding of salaries and benefits, Availability and quality of specialized, supporting technical equipment, and Adequacy of laboratory and office facilities. Each factor is discussed below.
OCR for page 48
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research Funding Salaries and Benefits The permanent staff of the GSFC civil service is paid for its work according to the individual’s skills and time in service. However, this committee heard that GSFC management is unable to guarantee center funding for the salaries of scientists engaged solely in basic research (TRL 1-3). Instead, all low-TRL workers need to find additional sources of funding for their salaries, either through work on specific missions, through successful competition for funding from the sources described in Table 5.3, or through center overhead funds if no other source is found. It is important to note that the committee was told that there has never been an instance when employees have not been paid; centers are required to find other funding sources for scientists whose competitive wins are insufficient to cover their salaries. Basic research staff told the committee that many of them have significant difficulties in securing adequate funding from these sources, not only for themselves but also for their support staff and purchases of essential technical equipment. As mentioned earlier, low-TRL research staff say that more than 30 percent and sometimes 50 percent of their time at work is spent preparing multiple, repetitive proposals to cover their project costs as well as to remain fully salaried and active in their basic research fields. This effort significantly reduces the time that they can spend on their basic research programs, especially in comparison with university faculty and research staff. Technical Equipment The technical equipment needed by the basic research staff must be purchased and maintained, especially investment in new equipment for the laboratories at GSFC and its Wallops Flight Facility. The three categories of annual equipment investments discussed below have been identified. General-Purpose Technical Equipment. General-purpose technical equipment funding provides for the acquisition of general-purpose laboratory equipment supporting GSFC’s IRAD programs. There are five main subcategories here: maintenance, operations, repair and replacement, upgrade, and strategic. The strategic subcategory includes all equipment added to create a new capability in a laboratory. Overall, the FY 2009 GSFC allocation to general-purpose technical equipment for all of its research activities was $6.4 million. The allocations are given in Table 5.4. The committee notes that more than 75 percent of the GSFC budget for technical equipment is for operations. Investments in long-term projects, which are the source of many low-TRL advances, appear to be of secondary concern. The committee was also informed that the total annual unfunded technical equipment projects at GSFC are between $2 million and $3 million each year. GSFC funding for general-purpose technical equipment related to low-TRL activities is not precisely known to senior management, because low-TRL expenditures are not accurately accounted for. However, GSFC managers estimate that from FY 2005 through FY 2009, the low-TRL program allocations for technical equipment were $63,000 and $70,000. Since there are more than 30 laboratories at GSFC and Wallops Island conducting some form of low-TRL research, the committee concludes that there is grossly inadequate technical equipment funding for the pursuit of low-TRL research activities. Such low levels of funding are a clear danger signal relative to the priority of low-TRL research at GSFC. It also helps to explain the difficulty that GSFC finds in establishing and operating low-TRL research laboratories in terms of retention of permanent staff and postdoctoral staff.
OCR for page 49
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research TABLE 5.4 Goddard Space Flight Center Expenditures for Technical Equipment, FY 2009 (thousands of dollars) Subcategory Allocation Maintenance 2,100 Operations 1,200 Repair and replacement 1,500 Upgrade 400 Strategic 1,200 SOURCE: K. Flynn, Deputy Director for Planning and Management, GSFC, “Technical Equipment Overview for NRC,” presentation to the committee, September 9, 2009. Technical Facility Restoration. Funds for technical facility restoration (TFR) are allocated separately from the funds for the technical equipment itself. This category includes restoration and/or modernization of existing capabilities—that is, “big-ticket assets” whose acquisition and installation are meant to last for many years. Funding for TFR at GSFC is budgeted at approximately $500,000 every year. Unfunded technical facility restoration projects are said to be $2 million to $3 million each year, according to management. Investments in this category are mainly at TRLs of greater than 3. However, the committee was told by individual researchers that to move forward into new types of essential basic research areas, the facility must be renovated before equipment can be added or new activities can take place. While mission funding is available in some cases, this lack of GSFC funding hinders the long-range evolution of basic research programs at the center. Recertification Program. Recertification Program funding is allocated for recertification associated with three types of equipment: (1) lifting devices and equipment, (2) pressure vessels and pressure systems, and (3) mobile aerial platforms and critical jacks. Approximately $2.4 million has been allocated annually in these areas, with annual unfunded requests of about $500,000. In FY 2009 SMD gave this program additional direct flight project funding of $900,000 for the recertification of this equipment, which is mainly for flight project integration and testing at TRLs greater than 3. Laboratory and Office Facilities for Basic Research Advances in basic research require fully equipped modern laboratory space as well as supporting building and suitable infrastructure. At the present time, there are more than 30 laboratories at GSFC and the Wallops Island Flight Facility in at least 12 separate buildings. The committee was told about the CRV, DM, and the FCI for each of these buildings. The estimated CRV for the low-TRL research buildings is $580.2 million, and the DM is $3.59 million. The average FCI is 3.7 for GSFC buildings and 4.67 for Wallops Island buildings.8 The FY 2009 maintenance expense of $18.5 million gives a ratio of maintenance costs per unit of CRV of 3.1 percent per year, which is normal range for technical facilities. The inverse of this percentage gives an annual estimated lifetime of about 31 years, a reasonable lifetime for such facilities. In presentations to the committee, GSFC managers discussed anticipated facility improvements over the next 3 years. The plans for FY 2010 include $38.5 million for CoF projects, $3.6 million for an environmentally modern demonstration project, $1.02 million for modifications and rehabilitation to 8 Information provided by Frank Bellinger, NASA Headquarters.
OCR for page 56
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research ARC also runs two institutes, the NASA Lunar Science Institute and the NASA Astrobiology Institute, which supplement and extend NASA’s other efforts in these two fields. The statement of task for this report focused the committee on three of the ARC directorates: the Science Directorate, the Exploration Technology Directorate, and the Aeronautics Directorate. This section of Chapter 5 covers the first two, while Chapter 4 covered the aeronautics work. ARC’s Science Directorate is further divided into three areas: Earth science, space science, and space biosciences. The first, Earth science, performs atmospheric science, studying phenomena such as climate change and cloud modeling and biospheric science (the carbon cycle and specific items such as fire and coral reefs), and developing airborne science technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicle technology, instrumentation, and small satellite mission concepts. Funding for the Earth science area at ARC is shown in Figure 5.2. The second area, space science research, carries out research into astrobiology and planetary sciences, with emphasis on lunar and small bodies, exoplanets, and astrophysics and astrochemistry. It works on advanced instrument design and supports the missions Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), Kepler, and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). Funding for space science research at ARC is shown in Figure 5.3. The third area, space biosciences, supports a number of programs: human research program, exploration life support, radiation and space biology (notably lunar dust characterization and toxicology) technology development; much of this research is implemented on the ISS. Space biosciences was significantly adversely affected in FY 2006, when the fundamental space biology program was cut to align agency resources with the Exploration Vision. Since then small gains have been made due to congressional augmentation. This is shown in Figure 5.4, which does not include funding for the Space Station Biological Research Project. The Exploration Technology Directorate is split into four areas: intelligent systems, human system integration, entry systems technology, and advanced supercomputing. The intelligent systems area focuses on autonomous systems and robotics, collaborative and assistant systems, robust software, and discovery and system health diagnostics research. Human system integration integrates people into an overall space system, determining human performance requirements and standards and working on items such as vision, auditory, and haptic interfaces. Entry systems technology is focused on aerothermodynamics and thermal protection system materials using some ARC-unique facilities such as the Arc Jet Complex. The advanced supercomputing area performs high-fidelity physics modeling and advanced computer science research using one of the world’s fastest supercomputers. Some of these areas fall within the subject areas of both the science and aeronautics chapters of this report and are covered in both places. Because NASA’s ETDP focuses on the near-term needs of the Constellation program,11 it has chosen to concentrate on advancing technologies at TRL 3 and above, toward TRL 6. That study found that NASA had in many areas essentially ended support for longer-term (TRL 1-2) technology research. So, because the focus of this report had already been set as TRL 1-3 research, much of what the Exploration Technology Directorate is working on at ARC was outside the scope of this study. In fact ARC reported that in the past 5 years, TRL 1-3 funding for ETDP has decreased approximately 85 percent, from $140 million to less than $20 million, as shown in Figure 5.5. The impact was especially pronounced and obvious in information technology, intelligent systems, robotics, and autonomy, where only a few years ago the NASA Computing, Information and Communications Technology Program, funded at $138 million, was judged by an independent NRC committee to have a very good research portfolio that supported NASA’s objectives.12 In fact, some technology areas were judged to be world-class by that earlier study, and all were in the three areas cut so drastically. 11 See National Research Council, A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008. 12 See National Research Council, An Assessment of NASA’s Pioneering Revolutionary Technology Program, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003.
OCR for page 57
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research FIGURE 5.2 Earth science research funding at Ames Research Center, FY 2004 to FY 2009. SOURCE: Ames Research Center presentation to the committee, December 2, 2009. FIGURE 5.3 Funding for space science research at Ames Research Center, FY 2004-2009. SOURCE: Ames Research Center presentation to the committee, December 2, 2009.
OCR for page 58
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research FIGURE 5.4 Funding for space bioscience research at Ames Research Center (in millions of dollars), FY 2004-2009. SOURCE: Ames Research Center presentation to the committee, December 2, 2009. FIGURE 5.5 Funding for exploration technology research at Ames Research Center, FY 2004-2009. SOURCE: Ames Research Center presentation to the committee, December 2, 2009. Summary of the ARC Visit During the visit to ARC on December 2 and 3, 2009, committee members were given tours of various laboratories and facilities that supported the Science Directorate and the Exploration Technology Directorate. For Earth science, the atmospheric chemistry laboratory was toured and for space science, many astrophysics and astrobiology facilities were shown. For astrophysics, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) cluster and luminescence laboratory, the PAH infrared properties laboratory, the cosmic ices and organics laboratory, the ultraviolet-visible laboratory/cosmic simulation chamber, the lunar dust mitigation laboratory, the Ames coronagraph experiment laboratory, and the infrared detector laboratory were all viewed, and scientists working in those laboratories shared their thoughts on the state of NASA and how it affected their research efforts. For astrobiology, the organic biosignatures laboratory and the planetary mineralogy laboratory were both toured. The final group of science facilities
OCR for page 59
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research viewed was in the research area of space biosciences, where the biofuels and bionanotech laboratory, bone and signaling laboratory, and small model organisms laboratory were all visited. For the Exploration Technologies Directorate, the TPS materials development laboratory and the advanced diagnostic and prognostic laboratory were shown. The arc jet facility was toured by the aeronautics group and thus is covered in that section of the report, although space-related work is done at the arc jet facility as well. Researchers were candid during the whole visit and held a special session to speak with the committee members. Overall ARC Assessment Throughout the review of ARC, several common themes emerged that had also been heard during visits to other NASA centers. As was noted at other locations, changes in NASA’s management and accounting require NASA scientists to compete in what was described as a very challenging environment. An example of the environment at NASA locations, especially at ARC, is the challenge that researchers face as they write more and more proposals to fewer and fewer opportunities with smaller and smaller award sizes (given the added burdens that full-cost management have brought). At ARC, scientists said that to their knowledge they were the only civil-servant scientists in the government who had to compete with external researchers for their salaries. Since typical grant values are now $100,000 to $200,000 each, and scientists typically ask for only 20 percent of their salary on each proposal, on average a researcher must win 5 proposals to be fully funded. With a good win rate being 1 in 3, a researcher must write 15 proposals a year. Younger researchers getting established could expect poorer success rates and would have to write even more proposals to support themselves, their laboratories, and their staff. Without institutional funds to support the cost of their organization’s operating expenses, laboratory equipment, laboratory personnel, and students (let alone their own salaries), all of these elements had to be obtained through competed funds. Full-cost management for laboratories performing low-TRL research jeopardizes the availability of these facilities for future development. Similar situations were seen at other NASA locations, Table 5.7 presents allocations of low-TRL research at ARC—ROSES awards, IRAD, and B&P expenditures. The DDF no longer exists. Similar to data presented above from GSFC and JPL, the table shows the significance of the ROSES awards for TRL 1-3 research. Despite the frustration expressed over this challenging environment, the passion of all of the personnel was clear to the committee. Many of them persevere at NASA because of the highly specialized research that they can perform to support NASA’s unique mission needs. The researchers understand that NASA must try to do too many things with too small a budget, so they do not fear the tough choices that lie ahead even if they are affected directly. In fact one of the most senior and well-recognized researchers at ARC may have put it best when he said, “I would rather see NASA do three things well than 10 things poorly” as they risk doing when they spread their efforts too thinly. TABLE 5.7 Funding for Low-TRL Research at Ames Research Center, FY 2007 Through FY 2009 ($ millions) 2007 2008 2009 ROSES (fundamental R&D) $7.9 $6.7 $8.2 IRAD $5.6 $10.4 $7.6 B&P $0.4 $0.2 $0.6 DDF $0.0 $0.0 $0.0 Total $13.9 $17.3 $16.4x NOTE: Acronyms are defined in Appendix F.
OCR for page 60
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research Because NASA’s missions and projects in science and exploration have become increasingly reliant on near-term technologies (TRL 4 and higher), many fundamental areas at ARC have been negatively impacted, including low-TRL research in information science, nanotechnology, advanced computing, and TPS. NASA’s abandonment of fundamental space biology at ARC had significant effects for that research community and came at a time when the ISS was just reaching the point where it could have been a key facilitator of such research. These changes in NASA investment in fundamental research have left several areas of research on “life support,” yet ARC maintains that they are needed if NASA is to sustain a long-term presence in space and develop lower-cost, more capable missions in the future. Examples given included early instrument development, nanotechnology, fundamental space biology, information technology, robotics/autonomy, and advanced TPS materials. The requirements extend to long-term facilities and staffing. A shortage of stable funding for infrastructure upgrades and maintenance jeopardize the ability of an organization to keep its cutting edge. Hiring freezes hinder knowledge transfer to the next generation of researchers, engineers, and technicians to maintain the current state-of-the-art as well as advance it. The expertise and knowledge of retiring staff will take years to re-create, and many facilities are being operated to failure without proper maintenance and repair. A key example at ARC is the arc jet boiler, which is 60 years old and will take 4 years to replace. This facility is critical for both the robotic and human exploration missions that NASA is working on. In addition, the centrifuges and other major space biology facilities at ARC have already been mothballed due to a lack of funding. When the committee toured the facilities, there were many instances of obsolete or inoperable equipment. This unfortunate state was explained by the difficulties of obtaining funds for equipment maintenance and upgrade through the current grant-funding process. One specific challenge, as seen by ARC personnel, is to restore its status as a spaceflight center.13 NASA’s other two robotic spaceflight centers are GSFC and JPL. As was noted in both of those assessments, the lack of large strategic missions in the future is already a concern for GSFC and JPL, since their research efforts benefit from the residual infrastructure and staff that these efforts provide. ARC, which does not have any missions of this type (and without some major change is unlikely to get one any time soon), could expect its struggles to be even more pronounced than those of GSFC or JPL, making this objective difficult to achieve. As evidence to support this, following Kepler’s initial selection as a Discovery mission that was initiated at ARC, mission development was transferred back to JPL, and only recently, on December 16, 2009, was its operational management regained by ARC, after the mission had been successfully launched. Although Kepler is not even close in size to the large strategic missions that keep GSFC and JPL going, it is nonetheless ARC’s largest current mission, and the fact that ARC missed the opportunity to manage it during the development phase means that it missed out on the institutional support that a mission like this can provide. ARC also has a large CRV of facilities, second only to that of the KSC (although the large CRV is partially compensated for by its many inactive facilities, like the famous Hangar One, as shown in Figure 3.3 in Chapter 3). In any case, ARC has a notably low CM&O budget as a percentage of the total NASA CM&O budget, as shown in Table 3.4 in Chapter 3. Of the NASA facilities that have these low percentages, only ARC is a research center, so its research equipment and support functions have been adversely affected. The gap is especially noticeable between ARC and GSFC (data are not available for JPL owing to its FFRDC status, but the trend is expected to be similar), against which ARC often competes for funds and personnel. One ARC strategy that should be commended is the establishment of the NASA Research Park to offset the austere budget environment. By developing partnerships with academic, nonprofit, and industry partners, it is creating a collaborative environment to stimulate innovation and education while also utilizing its real estate and facilities through enhanced use leases. Notable partners at ARC include 13 NASA, “Ames Research Center at a Glance,” Ames Research Center brochure.
OCR for page 61
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research Carnegie Mellon University; the University of California, Santa Cruz; Airship Ventures; the UAV Collaborative; Google; and Tesla Motors. This seems like an innovative method for ARC to tackle some of its infrastructure challenges. With its location in Silicon Valley, ARC should naturally be NASA’s portal to commercial and university information technology research. Although some of this research has been world-class, it is now substantially less so. ARC also does some important and unique work in astrobiology that is fundamental to NASA’s overall mission. ARC’s work in space biology has also been a casualty of budget realignment, which is difficult to understand given that the ISS is now mature enough that it could provide important support to this research. Its critical work in TPS and its unique arc jet facility will be important for future NASA missions as well as commercial capabilities that will need to bring crew or cargo back from orbit. These highlighted capabilities are but a few that could be vulnerable without changing the ARC approach to fundamental research and to the maintenance of its laboratory facilities, equipment, and support services. MARSHALL SPACE FLIGHT CENTER The stated mission of MSFC is to “make possible human and scientific space exploration.” MSFC occupies 1,841 acres on Redstone Arsenal. MSFC also manages the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana. It has approximately 237 buildings that occupy 4.5 million ft2. MSFC has 38 laboratories and facilities that conduct TRL 1-3 research. Eight of those laboratories are located in non-NASA assets—namely, in a U.S. Army building and in the National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC), which rents a building from the University of Alabama, Huntsville. Three members of the committee visited 12 of those facilities.14 MSFC has a workforce with more than 7,000 scientists, engineers, technicians, and business professionals; 38 percent of them are civil servants and 62 percent, contractor personnel.15 The NSSTC houses approximately 60 of those scientists and researchers. The Engineering Directorate has a large complement of the engineers and researchers. The focus of work at MSFC is propulsion and transportation systems, life support systems, and Earth and space science spacecraft, systems, and operations. The MSFC approach is to transition the research developed at TRL 1-3 into maturing technologies that can bring a return on investment. It looks for applications that can move from research to development to flight. The basic research at MSFC is in propulsion, power, material and manufacturing development, structures, avionics, and instrumentation and sensors. The work in propulsion focuses on advanced chemical, solar, and nuclear propulsion. Beneath the umbrella of propulsion, research is also conducted in cryogenic fluid management for long-term storage and utilization. Research in nuclear systems and solar research is also ongoing. A larger focus is in the area of materials and manufacturing. The research involves materials in unique and extreme environments, including at high temperatures, composites, and ionic liquids, and studies of avionics advanced control architectures and computer advances. The instrument and sensor areas focus on optics, microfabrication in cooperation with the Army, and measurements for flight. The NSSTC focuses on basic space science for heliophysics, astrophysics, Earth climate research, and planetary/lunar research. 14 Deputy Manager, Advanced Concepts Office, MSFC, Presentation on MSFC Laboratory Capabilities to the committee, September 9, 2009; and Frank Bellinger, Director, Facilities Engineering and Real Property Division, 15 Deputy Manager, Advanced Concepts Office, MSFC, Presentation on MSFC Laboratory Capabilities to the committee, September 9, 2009.
OCR for page 62
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research MSFC Funding of Space Science Overall funding for MSFC comes from a variety of sources. In FY 2009 MSFC received $302.5 million in CM&O, as shown in Table 3.4 in Chapter 3. The total MSFC budget for FY 2009 was $2.528 billion, as reported in an e-mail from the MSFC deputy manager, Advanced Concepts Office, on January 20, 2010, so the CM&O was 12 percent of the total budget. The CM&O-funded B&P work in FY 2009 was $595,000, but it is unclear what percentage was spent on research activities that were only TRL 1-3. MSFC funds an IRAD program that it refers to as the Marshall Technology Investment Fund. In FY2010 the amount will be $2.4 million; in FY 2009 it was at $5.1 million, and it had been as high as $10 million in earlier years.16 Competition is fierce for this funding, which supports research in strategic technologies. Other sources of funding for basic research come in limited quantities from NASA Headquarters’ ROSES, ETDP, and the Innovative Partnership Program. Collaborative research is also conducted with DARPA, DOE, and the Department of Defense (DOD). And finally, a small amount of research is funded through reimbursable contracts. In FY 2008, MSFC had just over $3 billion in CRV of all of its facilities, with an active CRV of approximately $2.8 billion (see Figure 3.4). For facilities located on the MSFC property that support TRL 1-3 research, the current CRV is just over $720 million. The DM on those facilities is $59 million, with an unweighted average facility condition index of 4.17 This corresponds to a rating of good. Building support and infrastructure for several other laboratories are provided by the University of Alabama and the U.S. Army. One building was completed in 2004 for $25 million with congressional funds earmarked for this purpose. The equipment in the facilities appeared to the committee to be adequate. The NSSTC shares some costs for equipment with the university. MSFC does not spend CM&O funds for test equipment. Additionally, major programs fund equipment that can be used for both low- and high-TRL research. Details of the MSFC Visit The committee visited several laboratories that were identified as devoted to TRL 1-3 research. The High Energy Instrumentation Development Laboratory was working on deminiaturization of a scanning electron microscope and on x-ray optics for lunar instrumentation. The Dusty Plasma Laboratory has the unique capability of studying single grains of dust in a space environment. Both laboratories support research for NASA’s SMD. (Since the building that houses the NSSTC is rented, the evaluation did not include the building itself but rather the equipment and instruments within the building, which are the property of NASA.) Several laboratories support advanced materials and manufacturing. These laboratories included research on the electrostatic levitator, innovative materials characterization, the high-temperature silicon carbide grid, and ISS materials science. Materials characterization is a unique facility for measuring high-temperature properties, surface tension, creep, and emissivity. One of the laboratories manufactures bulk materials and has equipment for sputtering and evaporating materials. A small amount of basic research is being conducted for environmental control and life support systems. This research supports lunar spaceflight and is trying to develop regenerative processes to provide resources for astronauts. Future interplanetary flights will require many regenerative processes. The committee viewed two separate equipment stations that support processes such as the Sabatier and Bosch-Catalyst processes for recovering CO2 to produce oxygen. 16 Information from an e-mail received on January 20, 2010, from MSFC Deputy Manager, Advanced Concepts Office, and remarks by Todd May, Special Assistant to the Director, December 10, 2009. 17 Frank Bellinger, Director, Facilities Engineering and Real Property Division, NASA Headquarters, “TRL 1-3 Building Report,” e-mail to the committee, December 4, 2009.
OCR for page 63
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research Three laboratories were toured in the microfabrication facility. This facility is owned by the U.S. Army, and work by NASA is conducted under a memorandum of understanding whereby the equipment, instrumentation, and some support services are provided by MSFC. A magneto-optical trap is being studied as well for gyroscopic development to improve navigation and for investigating landing surfaces for stability. The microfabrication laboratory and the microfabrication integrated optics laboratory carry out research on etching and photolithography processes for various materials that can withstand harsh environments. This work is developing various sensors, including pressure sensors that will work in hydrazine, cryogenic sensors, and carbon nanotube sensors. The committee also visited the materials research and technology facility at MSFC, where biological and organic processes are studied. One area of research in this facility is ISRU: The aim is to be able to “live off the land” by creating useful materials from the lunar regolith. A second endeavor is using ionic liquids to extract water from lunar regolith and then electrolyzing it. The third is working on the use of microwaves to do such extraction. Finally, the committee reviewed the propulsion research and development laboratory. This facility houses a large number of individual laboratories, including a special laboratory space for propulsion research in the areas of solar thermal engines, high-power electric/plasma propulsion, nuclear thermal propulsion, pulse power plasma propulsion, fission power propulsion, and antimatter propulsion. The electric/plasma propulsion research differed from work at GRC in that MSFC focuses on high-power applications and GRC focuses on low-power applications. Some spin-offs of MSFC research have been worked on, such as the plasma gun, which has helped develop a 20-km/sec projectile launcher for studying micro-meteoroid impacts. Even though this was a very modern and capable facility when it was first built, the research has essentially been stopped, and many of the laboratories appeared to be dormant. MSFC Assessment While the facilities at MSFC are currently good to adequate, they are very underutilized, and no additional R&D funding is coming into the center. The facilities for TRL 1-3 research are underutilized because the scientists and engineers are being moved to work on technologies for specific programs. The committee heard several times that the chief resource that was lacking for basic research was time. MSFC maintains a set of strategic investment technologies in areas where it can obtain a good return on investment—for instance, it aims to feed into a specific mission need. It appeared to the committee members that basic research at MSFC is secondary to the main thrust, which is operations and exploration, and that most research is funded in a technology-pull rather than a technology-push manner. MSFC’s heritage is in propulsion, yet there are only three laboratories within one building doing any propulsion-related basic research. This same building has many empty laboratories not being used at all. While the MSFC facilities are currently in fairly good shape, the small amount of research funding available limits the ability to make improvements and to maintain state-of-the-art facilities. For example, the propulsion research and development laboratory was built in 2004 and provided with state-of-the-art equipment. However, now that research funding has been mostly cancelled, the data acquisition and control systems are becoming old and obsolete. The basic funding for the NSSTC is also limited, and it is becoming harder to cover salaries let alone laboratory equipment. Similar to ARC, MSFC is utilizing the strategy of teaming with industry partners and academic institutions to offset the austere budget environment by establishing a research park. By developing these partnerships it is creating a collaborative environment to stimulate innovation and education. As mentioned above, the NSSTC rents a building from the University of Alabama, Huntsville. The von Braun Center for Science and Innovation (VCSI) goes even further, by developing partnerships with other academic and commercial centers such as Alabama A&M University, the University of Alabama at other locations, Auburn University, Science Applications International Corporation, and Draper Laboratory. Dynetics was going as far as investing $4.4 million in VCSI to develop a microsatellite for DOD
OCR for page 64
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research experiments. These research parks can be an additional mechanism to fund low-TRL activities and appear to be a good way for MSFC to tackle some of its budget challenges. GLENN RESEARCH CENTER The GRC main campus is situated on 350 acres adjacent to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. It has more than 140 buildings, including 24 large facilities and more than 500 specialized research and test facilities. In addition, Plum Brook Station, 50 miles west of Cleveland, has four large facilities for space technology development on 6,400 acres.18 Over 20 facilities and laboratories have been identified that conduct or have conducted space related low-TRL research.19 Three members of the committee visited 14 major areas made up of several smaller laboratories and facilities. GRC employs just over 1,600 civil servants and approximately 1,400 contractors. Of the scientists and engineers at GRC, 72 percent hold advanced degrees, with 25 percent holding Ph.D.’s. The committee members conducted a feedback session with approximately 25 of those scientists directly involved with space and science research at the GRC. GRC has four main areas of expertise in fundamental research: power, propulsion, communications, and microgravity science. In power, it has conducted basic research in fuel cells, solar cells, batteries, and control components. Power generation technologies include photovoltaic, thermovoltaic, and dynamic power systems. GRC has conducted basic research in electrostatic, electromagnetic, and electrothermal propulsion. It has also conducted applied research, seeking to understand the chemistries and physics involved in chemical propulsion systems in order to evolve the use of nontoxic propellants. GRC has developed tools to analyze combustion stability and do three-dimensional transient modeling. In communications, GRC is developing new concepts for lightweight, cost-effective antennas, such as large, deployable antennas, ferroelectric, steerable phased arrays, antennas integrated with solar cells for power, microelectromechanical systems-based reconfigurable antennas, space-fed lens antennas, and cryogenic receivers. In microgravity science, GRC has conducted basic research on fluid physics, combustion science, and reacting flow systems, including gravity variation. The center also has developed materials and structures for space environments and has conducted research on a basic understanding of the thermal, chemical, and mechanical properties of martian and lunar regolith. Funding at GRC Overall funding at GRC comes from a variety of sources, including, of course, NASA itself. (Chapter 3 contains details of that funding for the various centers.) From the presentations of NASA’s center management, it was learned that a patchwork of funding is used to keep facilities operational. Each center is primarily responsible for its own facility upgrades and maintenance. A few facilities are supported with direct Headquarters funding through the ATP, the Rocket Propulsion Testing program, and SCAP. These facilities generally do not conduct low-TRL research. GRC receives $185 million of CM&O funding, accounting for approximately 28 percent of GRC’s total budget, and is generally used to 18 Glenn Research Center, Research Lab Assessment, Presentation to the committee, September 9, 2009; and http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/about/aboutgrc.html. 19 Director of Facilities and Real Property Division, NASA Headquarters, TRL 1-3 Building Report, e-mail to the committee, December 4, 2009; and http://facilities.grc.nasa.gov/documents/GRC_Capabilities_Space.pdf.
OCR for page 65
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research support the GRC infrastructure.20 It does not have an IRAD budget or a specific B&P budget, nor does it have a specific program in which to invest strategically in large-facility equipment purchased with CM&O funds. Another source of funding is the CoF program, which funds only a small number of projects, primarily those costing at least $1 million. Another funding mechanism is reimbursable contracts, with as much as 80 percent funding for some facilities coming from reimbursable contracts. DM has become a concern at GRC. For FY 2008, the cost of DM was approximately $200 million for active facilities and about $110 million for inactive facilities, and it is growing every year, considerably more than the cost of DM for GSFC and JPL, which had approximately $100 million and $50 million, respectively, for active facilities.21 GRC’s CRV for FY 2008 was just over $3 billion, with an active CRV of about $2.9 billion (see Figure 3.4). It is somewhat difficult to break out how these amounts correlate to research facilities that support TRL 1-3 work. Center management said that they have approximately $90 million in DM and repairs for test facilities. Based on a document provided by the director of Facilities Engineering and Real Property Division of NASA Headquarters, which contained information on DM for only those buildings that support TRL 1-3 research, GRC has at least $13 million in DM for facilities that support space research. The R&T Directorate there does not have many personnel working directly in space-related research. Roughly 6 percent of personnel support NASA’s SMD, 4 percent are assigned to Space Operations Mission Directorate work, and 16 percent are involved in ESMD. From that perspective relatively few R&T personnel work on space-related tasks and probably far fewer on TRL 1-3 work. While GRC has a large complement of space research facilities, they appear to exceed the number that would be expected considering the number of people and space-related mission work. Details of the Center Visit During the visit to GRC on October 15 and 16, 2009, the committee members visited several laboratories that are conducting or have conducted low-TRL research. ETDP-funded facilities that were toured include the Creek Road Complex, which includes cell 7 and the small multipurpose research facility, two cells of the research combustion laboratory’s cell 11, cell 21, and the altitude combustion stand. Several research laboratories in the space power research area are being maintained by reimbursable funding. The laboratories that were visited include the energy storage laboratory, the calorimetry laboratory, the photovoltaics research laboratory, and the nanotechnology and quantum dot laboratories. Electric propulsion basic research has very limited funding, however the Electric Propulsion Research Building was toured, and many small space simulation chambers there can support low-TRL research. The building has 28 separate vacuum chambers available for research programs. The committee visited the ballistic impact laboratory and several advanced metallics laboratories. The materials laboratories included tensile testers, electron microscopes, and rolling mills. Only a few comparable materials laboratories exist elsewhere—that is, in the United States, Japan, and France. The laboratories have the ability to quickly produce small metallic samples. Several laboratories were visited that support microgravity research, including the combustion research laboratory, which studies fire detection and combustion diagnostics; the human research vision laboratory; the biophotonics research laboratory; and the tissue culture laboratory. The committee visited 20 NASA Glenn Research Center Research Lab Assessment, Presentation to the committee, September 9, 2009; Director, Research and Technology Directorate, Presentation to the committee, October 15, 2009; and Director, Facilities and Test Directorate GRC Test Facility Operations and Maintenance Overview, Presentation to the committee, October 15, 2009. 21 Director, Facilities Engineering and Real Property Division, NASA Deferred Maintenance Methodology, Presentation to the committee, September 8, 2009.
OCR for page 66
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research the 5.2-second zero gravity facility, which is a national landmark. Another building housed the 2.2-second drop tower, which appeared to be mostly dormant at present. Another group of facilities contains some ESMD and reimbursable work in tribology, dusts, and ISRU research: the tribology and space mechanisms facilities, space environment simulation, lunar dust simulation, particulate characterization/separation laboratories, and ISRU O2 extraction reactor studies. Another area of research at GRC supports microgravity research and research on the ISS. The committee reviewed the fluids and combustion facility, which is a mockup of an identical facility on the ISS, as well as the telescience support center, which is set up to support research payloads on the ISS. The last facility that the group visited was the space communication laboratory, which houses a number of separate rooms for testing different aspects of antennas, including near field, far field, metrology, compact ranges, and miniaturization. This allows fundamental research testing in one central location. GRC Assessment GRC is unable at present to provide adequate and stable funding for the equipment, facilities, and support services required for fundamental science and engineering research. Internal funding and NASA Headquarters funding for research have dropped to low levels, and scientists and engineers are spending inordinate amounts of time seeking funding to maintain basic laboratory capabilities. No dollars are allocated from the GRC budget for IRAD. Strategic equipment purchases are difficult because funding must often be pieced together from multiple sources or even over multiple funding years. Many programs have short-term, project-oriented objectives rather than the long-term strategic objectives that should be required from a fundamental research program. The committee members concluded that many of the laboratories at GRC are not keeping up with state-of-the-art equipment now offered by industry and university laboratories. In many cases it is maintaining existing research facilities but not significantly improving them and not advancing the state-of-the-art in research facilities in its disciplines. In other cases, the difficulty in funding licenses, upgrades, computers, maintenance, and the like is causing equipment and capabilities to deteriorate rapidly. Some equipment is so obsolete that it is not now maintainable (or soon will not be); this ranges from large pieces of equipment to programmable controllers. One laboratory was shut down for a year because there was no money for a computer. It was stated by some GRC staff that they go to neighboring universities to use the equipment. This has both negative and positive aspects: sharing equipment with other researchers who have first claim on its use, but also interacting with peers within a research setting. A few facilities that support ETDP work have been funded at minimal levels to maintain capabilities for specifically identified activities. These facilities have generally conducted lower-TRL work in the past and are capable of supporting that work. However, the facilities are currently underutilized and support only a small amount of funded higher-TRL work. The GRC staff noted numerous impediments that had made it more difficult than in the past to support such research and more difficult to acquire and maintain the equipment, facilities, and support services: in some cases, technicians have been moved out of laboratories, and scientists cannot obtain timely technical support even if funded; electric power is limited in some areas because infrastructure has not been fully improved; administrative systems and paperwork are more time-consuming; office supplies have been rationed; and so on. GRC is not keeping up with the state of the art enjoyed by comparable laboratories.